Sewing Quilts With Leftover Fabric Scrap: Cool Recycling Ideas

And I’m Not Talking About St. Patrick’s Day Or Making Quilts Out of Green Fabric When I Say “Quilt Green,” I Mean It!

Your Scrap Quilts Will Save the Environment and Your Sanity (Because Your Fabric Will Be Organized and Easy to Use – without Spending Hours and Hours Organizing It) And Oh, You Will Create Some Amazing Heirlooms Just Using Fabric From Your Stash, the Local Thrift Shop, or Worn Clothes From Your Closets Your Scrap Quilts Will Save the Environment and Your Sanity (Because Your Fabric Will Be Organized and Easy to Use – without Spending Hours

Be on the lookout, members of the quilter’s family!

It’s possible that some of your old clothes will end up in a family heirloom quilt.

Quilters have traditionally shown a strong preference for making scrap quilts.

When we look back through history, it is likely that the majority of the first quilts manufactured in the United States were scrap quilts, which were made from actual scraps of fabric.

Quilts were made from scraps of fabric, whether they were clothes that had been outgrown or worn out, or curtains that had been taken down, or old sheets that had been replaced on the bed.

And scrap quilts are much the same today. Many quilters who love to make scrap quilts, will use fabric from clothes purchased at a thrift shop, fat quarters from the fabric shop, outgrown or worn out clothes from their family, or fabric traded with other quilters.

Some quilters make scrap quilts with a particular purpose. For example, you could make a quilt from the clothes of a person in your family. It could be from a child’s outgrown clothes, made for him or her as they go away to college or start their own family. Or, it could be a Remembrance Quilt made from the clothes of a family member recently passed away.

There are charm quilts, where you choose one shape of patch and then sew together pieces of fabric, none of them the same. This is where it is great to have quilting friends to trade fabric with.

Even using old, left over fabric, quilters often pay attention to the design of the quilt – both in the shapes of the patches and the placement of colors.

In the mid 1980s, Judy Martin wrote a book called Scrap Quilts, and in the book she put forth some ideas about designing a scrap quilt:

No need to limit your quilting during an economic downturn – even a recession! For years, quilters have made beautiful family heirlooms and warm, loving coverings from scraps of fabric or clothes that are worn out.

This year can be the Year of Scrap Quilts! Yet, scrap quilts can also be made from newly bought fabric, so no limitation there, either.

To give you a jump start, here are a few tips for sewing scrap quilts:

  • include – something dark, something light, something dull and something bright
  • pay attention to the amount of dark and light contrast within your individual fabrics
  • combine large, medium and small scale prints
  • use neutrals to give your eyes a rest – it could be even a black and white print
  • using a bright accent color sparingly and consistently keeps your eye moving across the quilt and keeps it interesting

If you have ever made a scrap quilt, you might have noticed that, in some ways, it is more difficult to make than a quilt using all-new fabric. Several years ago, I took a workshop and made the little heart wall hanging on the right. The project was to take your quarter-square triangle patches and surround the heart applique patches, creating a secondary design – like maybe stars points around the hearts. I spent hours moving the patches around, and eventually, I just sewed them together. In some places, you might be able to see the stars. Mostly, though, I just saw frustration, and I was never inclined to try another scrap quilt – until recently.

Considering everything that is going on in the world, and looking at my growing collection of fabric – both my yardage and scraps, I thought it might be a good idea to take another look at scrap quilts. After all, I already have enough fabric to make tons of quilts, I just need to figure out a way to use it, since most of my quilts have been created from coordinated quilt shop fabric.

Then I discovered Bonnie Hunter – an expert in scrap quilts; and the creator of the Scrap Users System. One of my more recent problems was my scrap stash. For years, my scraps have been housed in small cardboard boxes. Well, the boxes are now overflowing and a mess. I have tried to keep one or two colors in each box, and that has worked by and large. But, there are all kinds of different sizes and shapes of scraps – strips, triangles, rectangles, leftover binding, and totally random shapes.

When I read Bonnie’s article in Quiltmaker magazine, it all started making sense. She sorts all of the strips that are longer than 12 inches by width – 1 1/2 inches; 2 inches; 2 1/2 inches and 3 inches. Anything smaller than 12 inches gets cut into squares and bricks (rectangles). The squares are the same sizes as the width of the strips (1 1/2,” 2,” 2 1/2,” and 3″) and the bricks are cut into pieces that are 2″ by 3 1/2,” 2 1/2″ by 4 1/2,” or 3 1/2″ by 6 1/2.” 

Now that makes sense. Because there is not much more frustrating than finding a color of fabric that is perfect for the space in the quilt, and then discovering that it is 1/2 inch too small. Better not to look at it in the first place.

As amazing as Bonnie’s Scrap User’s System was, what was even more amazing to me were her scrap quilts, and one of her overriding reasons for turning to scrap quilts.

Her scrap quilts go way beyond what I had thought of as a possibility for a scrap quilt. My thoughts go to Log Cabin, Tumbling Blocks, and Courthouse Steps.

The quilt on the left is made using the Rocky Road to Kansas quilt block. Typically this block has solid fabric between the points, but Bonnie has used fabric strips in those pieces. In this quilt, you can see how she uses the strips of fabric from her scrap stash.

The interesting thing is that one of Bonnie’s goals with her scrap quilts is to “Quilt Green.” By re-using, re-purposing, and recycling fabric, we can create beautiful heirlooms for future generations to enjoy on walls, beds, couches, or laps – instead of filling the landfills with fabric.

Bonnie is an expert in:

  • how to choose the right treasures at the thrift shop to guarantee a beautiful quilt
  • how to know which fabric manufacturers produce “green” fabric
  • how to tell the fiber content of a fabric – without a label
  • how to choose a fabulous design for a scrap quilt, not one that is “just a scrap quilt”
  • how to create interesting scrap borders, backing and binding
  • quick methods for piecing batting – so you can even use your scrap batting!
  • and much, more

Following her guidelines, the garments you choose will be perfect for your quilt, and you will know exactly how to prepare them for patches in your quilt.

Stay tuned for more information about making scrap quilts!

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